Behind the Ink: Johnny Depp’s Crow Tattoo (and Other Body Art) Explained

Damien Echols and Johnny Depp
Damien Echols and Johnny Depp

There's no stronger bond than one drawn in ink (unless you change "Winona Forever" to read "Wino Forever," but never mind).

Johnny Depp, star of this week's "The Lone Ranger," and Damien Echols, one-third of the original West Memphis Three, have shared some time together on the red carpet over the past year to promote "West of Memphis." (The highly acclaimed documentary is about three men, including Echols, who just last August were released from prison after being wrongfully incarcerated for 18 years.)

It turns out the actor and the former inmate have also shared time in a few tattoo parlors.

Johnny Depp crow tattoo
Johnny Depp crow tattoo

Although he's not officially involved with the documentary, Depp has been a fierce supporter of "West of Memphis" and the legal crusade that finally made free men out of Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin, who were accused of the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old boys found next to a creek in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Arkansas. Depp and Echols have become close friends and have sealed their bond with a few permanent marks.

The most striking tattoo shared by the two is an image of a crow, found on the back of their respective right hands. The artwork is a nod to the "The Crow" (released in 1994, the same year the Three were convicted), the fantasy action film about Eric Draven (the late, great Brandon Lee), a rock musician whose brutal murder is avenged when he rises from the grave a year after his death, guided by a mystical crow. It's a theme Echols says he explores in his autobiography, "Life After Death."

"[In the movie], they talk about the mythology of how [the crow] is considered to be something that transports souls from the realm of the dead to the realm of the living," Echols said in an interview with People Magazine last fall. "When somebody comes back to life, it's the crow that brings them back to the living."

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The image and theme of the crow also fits into the bird imagery of the headdress that Depp wears as Tonto in "The Lone Ranger." This costume flourish came from Depp himself, who was inspired by Kirby Sattler's striking painting, "I Am Crow."

"It just so happened Sattler had painted a bird flying directly behind the warrior's head," said Depp in an April interview with Entertainment Weekly. "It looked to me like it was sitting on top. I thought: Tonto's got a bird on his head. It's his spirit guide in a way. It's dead to others, but it's not dead to him. It's very much alive."

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And get this: The crow is only one of five tattoos that Depp and Echols share. The others are as follows:

1) Right Shoulder: 'Brother' (in Theban language)
According to, this tattoo was first seen at the Japanese premiere of "Dark Shadows" (May 2012). The artwork is that of a circle made up of the word "Brother" in the Theban alphabet (a magical alphabet believed to be invented by Honorius of Thebes, Egypt). "This one I actually got with Johnny Depp," says Echols, who also designed the artwork. "It says 'brother' on the outside and my name and his name in the middle of it."

2) Right Tricep: Ching
Depp and Echols got this tattoo on October 7, 2011, at Depp's favorite tattoo parlor, Mark Mahoney's Shamrock Social Club, located on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Echols got a large version of the artwork while Depp's is smaller. Echols identifies the symbol as "Hsiao Ch'u," meaning "Taming Force." "What this represents is, whenever you're facing huge obstacles, you don't focus on them or you'll lose heart and be defeated," says Echols. "Instead focus on just putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time."

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3) Underside of Left Forearm: Harley Davidson Skeleton Key
This tattoo was first seen on April 11, 2012, when Johnny and Marilyn Manson were performing at the Golden Gods Awards. "When I was a child, I thought that a skeleton key could literally open any door," says Echols. "So that if you ever got your hands on a skeleton key, you'd be almost unstoppable — no barrier could hold you back. It seemed like an incredibly magical thing. For me now, that's still what it represents."

The Skeleton Key was also something of a "long distance" tattoo for the duo. "That one we did simultaneously," says Echols. "[Depp] was in L.A. and I was in New York and we were on the phone at the same time both sending each other photographs back and forth, keeping track on the progress and everything else."

4) Left Hand: Inverted Z (Flash)
This was first seen when Depp became an adopted member of the Comanche Indian tribe on May 16, 2012. Echols got the same tattoo in celebration of his friend's adoption. According to, the 'z' or the zigzag is a common Native American symbol and motif.

If the center line of the Z slants left, it indicates the path of the soul — the journey the spirit takes and the walk that is made within the spirit. If the center line slants to the right, it indicates forces that call loudly to a person's soul — passions or issues that compel a person to take a chosen path of life. The two horizontal lines (top and bottom) indicate the journey of life and the understanding as we walk upon the grounding plane of Earth.

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